Jane's Reviews > Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock

Elizabeth and Hazel by David Margolick
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Dec 23, 11

Read in December, 2011

When I was preparing to leave North Dakota for the college town of Galesburg, Illinois, my dad mentioned to me that among my classmates at Knox College would be one of the Little Rock Nine. Sure enough, when I moved into my triple room on the third floor in Whiting Hall, I realized that across the hall and down about two rooms from mine lived Elizabeth Eckford, Liz to her classmates, and her roommate Marcie. Liz and I were in the same French 201 class taught by the fearsome Dr. Elna Jeffries, and it soon became clear that my Fargo French was on a par with her Little Rock French. We commiserated over the fact that we couldn't understand what Dr. Jeffries was saying (either Dr. J's accent didn't match what I'd been taught, or she talked faster than my ears could listen), and before tests we'd cram together. Out of shyness, or wanting to respect her privacy, or being totally clueless, probably the latter, I never asked her about her Little Rock experience. Second semester we weren't in the same class, and we took to greeting one another in the large shared hall bathroom with its multiple sinks, showers and stalls before rushing off to our different schedules. The following year, Liz didn't come back to Knox, and neither did Marcie. No one I knew had any information, and we assumed they'd transferred to other schools. Years passed: I saw her picture in history books. Recently, I read about her in the Post when despite being invited she didn't come to Obama's inauguration.

Now I've had the opportunity to learn what Liz endured in 1957, the cruelty, the loneliness, and what she continues to endure, and I am overwhelmed and awed by her courage. This book opened my eyes to details I almost wish I didn't know about that awful year Liz spent as one of nine African American students at Central High School in Little Rock. Years ago I met Ernest Green, the eldest of the Little Rock Nine, when he visited my former school/workplace as the guest of an American history teacher. As the book explains, his experience was different from Liz's, and he has always framed that experience and the following years in a positive light.

Ernest's positive life experience has not been shared by Liz Eckford. My heart has been wrenched in reading of the years since the famous picture of Liz was taken, of the ups and downs she has experienced, of her ability to attempt a friendship with Hazel, the white girl caught in the famous photograph with Liz.

As much as I am impressed by Liz's courage, so too am I impressed the ability to change, to grow, to confront her past shown by Hazel, the 15 year old racist who has spent her life making amends for her ugly behavior on that fateful September day. Margolick does a good job presenting the views of both women. Especially interesting, too, is Margolick's explanation of how a news story describing the Louis Armstrong's angry outburst when he was asked about Little Rock possibly led Eisenhower to send in the Guard to force the integration of Central High School.

If you are old enough to remember 1957, you should read this book. If you are younger, be grateful that you've grown up in a different culture than that of Little Rock in that long ago time.

On a personal note, I was astounded to read that the author, Margolick, learned from Liz that during her year living in Whiting Hall, she sometimes stayed out all night, sleeping in the ladies room at the train station. Wow! Mother Meeks, our house mother, had me firmly under her thumb! "Gracious girls make gracious women," was her signature phrase, but she could be extremely forceful (ungracious?) when disciplining girls who dared ring the dorm bell for late admission. I never dared even think about being late for closing time. (You youngsters can roll your eyes at what life in the dark ages must've been like.) I guess a young woman who could integrate a hostile high school wouldn't be deterred by the likes of Mother Meeks. Before Knox had a chance to make a gracious woman of her, Liz had made her own mark on history.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Barner (new)

Barner what a great review to read!!!!!!!


message 2: by Justine (new)

Justine I AM old enough to read it, to remember, and thanks so much for such an energetic commentary.


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